Alabama to Receive $3.7 Million in DDT Settlement Funds to Restore Damaged Habitat

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A brown pelican nesting on an island in Barataria Bay, Louisiana: Glynn Wilson

By Glynn Wilson

Federal and state agencies have announced that Alabama will receive $3.7 million in a settlement agreement with the chemical corporation BASF to restore natural resources and wildlife habitat harmed by the release of the banned chemical compound DDT and other harmful substances from the company’s manufacturing site in McIntosh, north of Mobile. The funds are part of a $5 million settlement with the company that acquired the Ciba-Geigy chemical corporation’s manufacturing plant.

Beginning in the 1950s, Ciba-Geigy manufactured DDT, a pesticide used to combat disease-carrying insects, mainly mosquitoes, along with other pesticides, herbicides, and other agricultural and industrial chemicals. As a result, hazardous wastes from the facility were released into unlined pits on the property and discharged into the Tombigbee River and its adjacent floodplain.

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A Brown Pelican: Glynn Wilson

The use of DDT was banned in the United States in 1972 due to its proven harmful effects on the environment, wildlife and the public. Once released, DDT persists in the environment for a very long time and increases in concentrations up the food chain, resulting in cancer in human beings, and it weakened the egg shells of some bird species, such as the once endangered brown pelican and the American symbol itself, the bald eagle. Those and many other species have now made comebacks in the wild since DDT was banned. The brown pelican was removed from the Endangered Species List in 2009.

In 1984, EPA listed the McIntosh facility as a Superfund site after investigations found elevated concentrations of DDT in fish and sediments within the floodplain, bottomland hardwood forests and areas of the Tombigbee River adjacent to the site.

The settlement was negotiated by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division on behalf of the trustee agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Geological Survey of Alabama.

Acting on behalf of the public to protect and restore damaged natural resources, the agencies began a cooperative damage assessment with the responsible party in 2005 to identify injuries to the environment and come up with an amount needed for restoration under federal law.

Nearly $3.2 million of the $5 million BASF settlement will be used to plan, implement and oversee restoration projects and to acquire lands within the Mobile Bay watershed to compensate for resources injured as a result of exposure to the contaminating chemicals. Alabama will also receive $500,000 to fund additional ecosystem restoration efforts through support of the Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center. The remaining funds will reimburse the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA for their past assessment costs.

The trustee agencies will continue to develop a draft restoration plan with proposed projects, which will be released for public review and comment.

The settlement agreement is available for review on NOAA’s Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program Website.

© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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